It’s one of the problems with Formula One. Cars are dropping out less and less. So the surprise factor is missing. In the first twelve races there were only eleven defects. This is due to ever more intensive test bench runs.

Formula 1 is moving tightly towards a new record. If the picture of the first half of the season repeats itself from the Belgian GP onwards, then this Formula 1 year will be the one with the fewest defects of all time. In the first 12 races there were only 11 technical retirements. This is a rate of 0.92 defects per race.

Even compared to the last three years, this represents a massive drop. Not to mention the 70s, 80s or 90s. 1987 was the worst year in GP history with 12.1 defects per Grand Prix. In 2018 there were 45 technical breakdowns in 21 races. That’s 2.14 per Grand Prix. In 2017 there were 60 in 20 races or three defects per WRC round. 2016 is a little better with 52 retirements for technical reasons in 21 races. The quota is 2.47.

This season seven of the ten teams have covered more than 90 percent of all possible race kilometres. The reliability is breathtaking. You can almost speak of standard production. But it’s bad for the sport. The surprise factor is missing. In the past, you could never be sure that anything would happen, even at the most boring race. Today you know it.

Just a defect in the top teams

Reliability is the result of foresighted design, high production quality, good fault analysis and complete quality control. Here, too, the formula applies: Those who have more money are better off. In the defect statistics, there is a clear gradient in the field. The three top teams only had one single defect to complain about in the first twelve races. After all, the remaining seven teams had ten. Mercedes, Ferrari, Williams, Alfa Romeo, Toro Rosso and Racing Point still have a clean slate.

The most conspicuous is the quality improvement at Red Bull. The team from Milton Keynes has always built fast but often fragile cars. In 2018 Red Bull counted nine defects. In 2017 there were eight. This time only one. A drive shaft on Pierre Gasly’s Red Bull broke in Baku. Red Bull found it difficult to reproduce the damage. It is assumed that unfavourable vibrations when driving over the curbs damaged the half-shaft joint on the wheel side.

Red Bull with more test bench time

Red Bull Sports Director Helmut Marko confirms: “The quality improvement was a clear target for our engineers. We’ve failed too often in recent years.” Red Bull liked to pass the buck to its former engine partner Renault. But in the past it wasn’t always Renault’s fault. There was also damage to the clutch, gearbox or electrical systems.

Max Verstappen reveals that the engine partner was indirectly responsible for the damage in the chassis area. “Today we can drive much longer and more intensively on the test bench. This allows us to test all components under continuous load at the limit.”

The secret: Honda provides many more engines for test bench runs, and they can also be driven there with more power, i.e. under realistic conditions. “They themselves also have many more test benches. In Japan there are test facilities for all kinds of components,” reveals team boss Christian Horner.

But the showpiece is the so-called VTT test rig. It’s in Milton Keynes. The complete car with engine, transmission, chassis and cooling can be tested on it on any race track day and night in all weather conditions. Red Bull can even connect its full-size test stand directly to its simulator. The car then does in the room next door what the driver specifies in the simulator. This is not possible with Mercedes and Ferrari. VTT monsters for 15 million euros

Only the top three teams own one of these VTT monsters. Cost: at least 15 million euros. Open at the top. Renault is considering acquiring such a system by 2021. If you want to keep up with the top teams, that’s almost essential. It is probably no coincidence that Renault and its customer McLaren are only in 8th and 9th place in the reliability statistics. They are responsible for a total of seven of the eleven technical failures.

The VTT test stand practically replaces real test drives in terms of quality improvement. In the 2000s, Ferrari unwound up to 70,000 kilometers oro year in Fiorano and Mugello. This is no longer permitted today. But on the test benches there is no limit.

The private teams will run after this gap forever. Racing Point technical director Andy Green regrets. “These VTT test stands are a huge advantage. But this will always be reserved for the factory teams. It wouldn’t make any sense for us to buy one. We wouldn’t have the engines to do that.

Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator

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